Religious Group Shows Little Tolerance for Parody
The Church of Scientology International (CSI) demanded that GoDaddy take down a website, cheerupwillsmith.com, that uses parody and satire to tweak CSI, its alleged relationship to actor Will Smith, and its reportedly aggressive control over the activities of its members. The site included a letter, purportedly from Scientology leader David Miscavige, requiring CSI members to see After Earth, a new movie starring Will Smith that hasn’t done well at the box office, at least three times in order to cheer Will up. The site also demanded that members make videos supporting Smith.
Pointing to the presence of CSI logos and a photograph of Mr. Miscavige on the site, CSI told GoDaddy the site violated CSI’s copyright and trademark rights, and asked the company to take it down. GoDaddy promptly complied. CSI also claimed that the creators of the site had violated California Penal Code section 528.5, which forbids the credible impersonation of a human person online. Section 528.5 was intended as a tool to combat cyberbullying; as we anticipated, however, it’s now being used to target political speech.
As we explained in a letter to CSI, however, none of these claims holds water. No reasonable person would think the site offered a credible impersonation of Mr. Miscavige delivering a silly message—unless perhaps CSI knows something we don’t?
Given the outrageousness of CSI complaint, it’s shocking that GoDaddy would respond without hesitation.